Why Get a Masters Degree in Sustainability

As the world economy is growing and becoming more interconnected, there is a need to ensure that the planet is preserved for future generations. This is causing a major shift in the competitive landscape for companies. They are having to think differently about their products, technologies, processes and business models.

The movement towards sustainable and environmentally friendly business practices can be a huge source of both organizational and technological innovations for many companies, which result in superior bottom line returns.

A Career in Sustainability

The growing field of sustainability is a meeting point for social science, ecology and economics. A master’s in sustainability student will be learning about the politics and science of climate change, sustained development, poverty and development, social responsibility of companies, ethics and the environment, and more about the processes of understanding sustainability research.

Because this is such a highly interdisciplinary field, many master’s in sustainability programs can be found in many different departments in universities across the US, such as business management, political science, environmental science, economics and anthropology.

Why Earn a Master’s in Sustainability?

Earning a master’s degree in sustainability will provide you with the skills and knowledge, as well as the credentials, to qualify for many rewarding careers in sustainability management and environmental management in the private or public sectors.

You will develop skills to conduct research in sustainability and to provide adaptive solutions to many common sustainability challenges in the business world. These types of skills can be applied to many good-paying jobs today in the following sectors:

  • Government agencies
  • Waste management
  • Environmental organizations
  • Universities
  • Private companies
  • Parks departments
  • Labor unions
  • Agricultural organizations
  • Retail and sales

Depending upon your career goals, there are several types of master’s in sustainability that you can earn:

Master of Arts in Sustainability

This is the most common and most traditional master’s in the field. It is best suited for students who want to learn how to generate knowledge in sustainability, and to design new methods to address sustainability challenges.

This type of master’s program usually requires a thesis or academic paper at the end of the program. The MA is typically geared towards students and professionals who want to work in social sciences, planning, or the humanities.

Master of Science in Sustainability

The MS in sustainability is a more research-focused degree that requires you to complete a thesis, or possibly a capstone project that could be a scientific paper.

The MS degree is best suited for students who are more likely to work in the natural sciences, economics, engineering or more technical fields. It is the most frequent choice for students who want to work in research or academia.

Students will learn how various disciplines view and approach questions of sustainability in research, theory and practice.

Master of Sustainability Solutions

This is a more specialized sustainability master’s that will prepare you for a sustainability career in many fields. You will learn to address many complicated human and environmental concerns. You will have the skills and the knowledge to present viable sustainability solutions to private, government and NGO entities.

Master of Sustainability Leadership

This leadership focused degree will prepare you to advance both environmental and social responsibility. These types of programs will teach you leadership skills that can be applied to private and public organizations, through the lens of sustainable development.

Admission Requirements

The admission requirements for a master’s degree in sustainability program will vary depending upon the university. At Arizona State University, these are the requirements for admission for the above master’s programs:

  • GPA of 3.25: This could be lower at other universities, but you should expect to have a GPA of at least 2.75 in your undergraduate work. Some schools will still consider you if your GPA is lower than required, but you will need to show extensive work experience.
  • Official copies of GRE test scores. Some schools may require GMAT scores; others may waive test scores if you have significant work experience.
  • A minimum of three recommendations. They can be from professionals or educators who are experienced with your work.
  • Statement of intent: You should be able to explain in 500 words what you intend to do with your master’s in sustainability.
  • Updated resume or CV.

Curriculum and Courses

Regardless of where you study to earn your master’s degree, you can expect to take similar courses in sustainability. For example, Columbia University offers a Master of Science in Sustainability Management, requiring you to complete these courses:

  • Integrative Courses in Sustainability Management
  • Economics and Quantitative Analysis
  • Physical Dimensions of Sustainability Management
  • Public Policy Environment of Sustainability Management
  • General and Financial Management

You also will likely need to take several elective courses in sustainability. At Columbia University, some of these options include the following:

  • Cost Benefit Analysis
  • Greenhouse Gas Emissions
  • Building Energy Workshop
  • Sustainable Cities
  • Sustainable Finance
  • Water Systems Analysis
  • Energy and Sustainable Development

If you are interested in becoming an environmental scientist, which is one of the most common career paths, you may want to take additional classes in computer modeling, data analysis and geographic information systems.

Career Outcome and Job Titles

Professionals who earn a master’s degree in sustainability will work in a variety of sustainability and environmental careers. These can be more science based careers, as well as more humanities or liberal arts roles, depending upon your type of master’s earned, as well as your career interests. Some of the common job titles you may qualify for include:

  • Environmental scientist
  • Environmental engineer
  • Sustainability manager or director
  • Biochemist
  • Hydrologist
  • Post-secondary school teacher or instructor
  • Epidemiologist
  • Environmental science technician

Environmental scientists often have a master’s degree in sustainability. They tend to work in the following industries:

  • Management, scientific and technical organizations: 23%
  • State government: 22%
  • Local government: 13%
  • Engineering: 10%
  • Federal government: 6%

Job and Salary Outlook

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the job outlook for environmental scientists and specialists is strong: There will be an 11% increase in job demand by 2024, which is faster than average.

It is expected that there is greater public interest in the dangers and hazards that the environment faces in the US and globally. There also are more demands being put on the environment as the population continues to grow. All of these factors are projected to increase demand for environmental scientists and specialists.

Much of the growth in this field is expected to be largely in private consulting. These companies help corporate clients to monitor and manage their environmental issues and to stay in compliance with regulations. It also is believed that many jobs in this field will continue to be in local and state government.

Environmental scientists currently work with businesses to come up with new practices that reduce waste, avoid pollution, and conserve natural resources. A sustainability background is important to get these types of positions. Companies want to do all they can to reduce their costs, and they also want to avoid the bad publicity that comes with polluting the environment.

The median pay in this field was $67,400 in May 2015, with the top 10% earning more than $118,000 per year.

Scholarships and Grants

The field of sustainability has become very important to businesses in all industries in the 21st century. There are many new master’s programs available in this sector, and also there are scholarships available to help you pay for your studies:

  • Arizona State University: Students who are earning a master’s degree in sustainability at ASU are eligible for several scholarships. These include the CannonDesign Sustainability Scholarship of $1000, and the Messner and Patzer Sustainable Energy Scholarship for $1000.
  • National Environmental Health Association (NEHA) Scholarship: A $1000 scholarship for students who are studying environmental health or sustainability.

Additional Resources

Please review these additional related resources for sustainability: